When I think of Utah I think outdoor recreation. It’s thus fitting that the annual Outdoor Retailer Show is held in Salt Lake City. This was my first time heading to the show and I was super excited to see all of the great things that are coming from the outdoor industry for 2017. At the same time, I had a little pang in my heart. How could I be so close to these amazing mountains and not hike? That answer was simple, I didn’t have a car. So off I flew to Salt Lake City without any hiking plans, but not entirely giving up.
Luck would have it that Shelby, one of our buyers, had a rental car and both of us had some free time on Friday morning. I pitched her my idea of hiking Mt. Superior and after doing a little research she was game. We met in the hotel lobby at 5:00 AM and set out to Alta. Our hike began almost an hour before sunrise, but we didn’t need headlamps. The trails here in the Wasatch National Forest are very different from what I am used to in the northeastern United States. There were very few trees along our route. Oh, we were also starting at an elevation just under 9000 feet.
Right from the get go, where the trail started behind the sheriff’s office, there was a lot of huffing and puffing on my part. The morning before I did a 4 mile run in Salt Lake City, but it had been 7 years since I hiked at elevation. I had to make many more stops to catch my breath. It wasn’t just the elevation that was causing me to stop; the scenery was gorgeous. The trail was fairly smooth and easy to follow at the beginning.
Once we got up to Christmas Tree Peak things got rougher and a bit more intimidating. Mt. Superior looked a world away. You could just make out a trail on the left flank of the mountain. I had to keep reminding myself that this hike really wasn’t harder than other ones I have done in New Hampshire… just fewer trees…. and a much higher starting elevation.
The route got a bit more difficult to follow the higher up we got. There are no trail signs, no blazes, and we only noticed one cairn the entire time. At more than one point I may have put us on some nice class 4 scrambling. It looked like the most direct route. There were plenty of foot and hand holds but it would be sketchy to go back that way. Good thing once we got past a section you could look back down and see the easier route we were supposed to take.
After passing multiple false summits we finally reached the true summit of Mt. Superior (11,132 feet). From the summit we had a 360-degree view of Salt Lake, Alta & Snowbird Ski Resorts, and around the Wasatch Mountain range. It was also my first time hiking over 11,000 feet.
I really could have sat up there on the summit for hours. There was so much to see; views that I am not used to. Reality was setting in and we needed to head back down and back to work.
This time Shelby and I did a much better job of following an actual trail. There was one pretty sketchy section (as seen above) that a slip would have led to a long, uncomfortable slide down the mountain. We made it through, although we both had some pretty graceful slips at other points.
Our way back down was almost a completely different experience. On the way up it had been dark. Now that we were heading down, and past Christmas Tree Peak, we were in fields of wildflowers. The majority of the flowers were about a week past their best blooms but still provided splashes of color along the trail.
Our total hike was 5 miles long and took a little under 5 hours. We parked right along Little Cottonwood Rd (Route 210) in front of the sheriff’s office. Driving time to the trailhead from downtown Salt Lake City was about 40 minutes. If you are coming from sea level remember to drink way more water than normal!